Before the AFC and NFC championship games, I highlighted the six young players who were bound to find themselves in key one-on-one matchups, and wrote their play would likely tell part of the story as to which teams would advance to the Super Bowl.
Turns out, just about all of the efforts from the youthful players were telling as to the outcome of each contest. Let's circle back to those performances. You'll notice how impactful they were in determining the winners on Sunday.
Kelce went berserk against the Bills with 13 catches for 118 yards and two scores on 15 targets. No, Edmunds wasn't covering him for all that production, but at Edmunds' size (nearly 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds) with high-end athleticism for the linebacker position, he's a rare specimen who, on paper, should matchup with Kelce reasonably well.
[Narrator:] He didn't. The Bills allowed Kelce free releases off the line of scrimmage all night, and that space allowed the best tight end in the game to create separation and generate yards after the catch at all. The lack of physicality shown by Edmunds and the rest of Buffalo's defense was a big reason why Kansas City won going away on Sunday night.
Edmunds was the primary coverage defender on seven Kelce targets. Those throws went for six catches and 55 yards.
Jaire Alexander, CB, Packers
Assignment: Buccaneers WRs Mike Evans/Chris Godwin
Alexander did his part against the brilliant weaponry the Buccaneers boast. He had two interceptions of Tom Brady and registered three more pass breakups. The first pick was on a tipped pass near the end zone and the other was a prayer Brady heaved down the field that fell way short of its intended target. His defended passes were more impressive individual efforts.
Mike Evans had 51 yards on three catches with a first quarter touchdown. Chris Godwin erupted for 110 yards on five grabs but much of the production had by Tampa Bay's top receiving units came on non-Alexander cornerbacks for the Packers.
The All-Pro finished his third NFL season with a stat sheet bursting at the seams -- 16 pass breakups, three interceptions and 54 total tackles as Mike Pettine's star press-man corner.
L'Jarius Sneed, CB, Chiefs
Assignment: Bills WR Cole Beasley
Sneed did leave the AFC title game late with a concussion but before the injury occurred, he pieced together a solid effort. The outside-turned-slot cornerback did see Buffalo wideout Cole Beasley lead the team with seven catches for 88 yards, but the rookie had a sack and tackle for loss in what was a stout defensive showing from Kansas City's defense against one of the league's most dynamic offenses. On Buffalo's first possession, Beasley caught a 17-yard in-breaking route from Josh Allen with Sneed in coverage. Beyond that, Sneed did a fantastic job limiting the Bills' offensive weapons.
The Chiefs were aggressive attacking Allen for most of the evening, and the springy, explosive Sneed played a sizable role in executing that game plan perfectly in the convincing win.
Tristan Wirfs, OT, Buccaneers
Assignment: Packers EDGE Za'Darius Smith
Wirfs pitched a shutout against an array of Packers pass rushers in the NFC title game, quite the amazing feat for a first-year player. On 38 pass-blocking snaps, Wirfs did not surrender a single pressure of Tom Brady.
Smith had just one pressure himself, which made for the fourth outing all season in which he failed to accumulate multiple pressures, and one of the other games was Week 6's loss to the Buccaneers.
Wirfs is every bit as good as the hype.
Taron Johnson, CB, Bills
Assignment: Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill
Johnson did have two pass breakups against the Chiefs, plays in which his stellar instincts and burst to the football were on full display. But, like essentially every other cornerback in football, Johnson was victimized by Tyreek Hill in true one-on-one matchups.
While covering Hill, Johnson allowed three grabs for 90 yards, including a dazzling 71-yarder in which Johnson was unable to corral Hill immediately after he caught the football which allowed the most explosive wideout in the league to gather steam to navigate his way down the field in a flash.
Overall, Hill had 172 yards on nine grabs on the evening.
Carlton Davis, CB, Buccaneers
Assignment: Packers WR Davante Adams
Davis allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown on a slant inside the five-yard line to Davante Adams but otherwise had a strong showing against the elite wide receiver.
Adams finished with just a 7.4 yards-per-catch average on nine receptions. Against Davis, Adams had 41 yards on five catches. His limited production was integral in the Buccaneers slowing down the Packers' high-efficiency attack for most of the afternoon in Green Bay. That slow start for Aaron Rodgers crew allowed Tampa Bay to jump out to a 28-10 lead that ultimately was too much of a margin to overcome despite a more typical performance in the second half. We shouldn't forget the 50-yard touchdown he allowed to Marquez Valdez-Scantling, yet Davis held Adams in check all game.
(All advanced stats courtesy of TruMedia unless otherwise noted)